Researchers learning more about Zika dangers

PITTSBURGH-- The House approved financial incentives for companiesdeveloping treatments for Zika. But Congress has still not acted on a White House request for nearly $2 billion to fight the virus.

Meanwhile, researchers are learning more about Zika every day.

For researchers like Dr. Ernesto Marques at the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health, working on Zika for the last year has meant playing catch up.

"It was thought it was a benign virus that wouldn't cause any significant harm to human disease, and it turns out it causes all kinds of problems that we never imagined," he said.

The problems in newborns include microcephaly, an abnormally small brain at birth, and damage to nerve tissue in the eye.

But there is emerging evidence of neurological problems in adults, too -- including inflammation of the brain, and Guillain-Barre syndrome, a form of paralysis. And a week ago, a case of a 15-year-old girl with inflammation of the spinal cord.

These new reports of rare complications are surprising researchers. After a study of Zika infected patients in Brazil, the author concluded: "There is strong evidence that this epidemic has different neurological manifestations than those referred to in (existing) literature."

CDC Deputy Director Dr. Anne Schuchat says researchers are just starting to learn why the virus may be so dangerous.

"In animal studies of the Zika virus, it seems that the virus is attracted to nerve tissue or brain tissue and so we worry that in humans that this virus may destroy nerve tissue or attack brain cells," she said.

To keep this in perspective, most people who get Zika recover completely after a relatively mild illness.

Dr. Schuchat told CBS News the focus remains on preventing pregnant women from getting infected.